Pope Gregory I (590-604) was a great communicator and wanted pastors of souls to be effective communicators. This requires rules, a kind of ethics of communication. Today, we communicate about everything, but problems remain: Who are the communicators? How are they trained? Who judges whether or not communication is good? According to what criteria? How do we ascertain the truth of information?
Gregory affirms that there are four ways of communicating, and he writes of this in his Latin, which to us may seem a mere play on words, but which is more effective than any translation: “Every communication,” he writes, “can take place in four ways: aut mala male, aut bona bene, aut mala bene, aut bona male” (ComJb V, 23, 5). Here is how he explains this formula.
Mala male, occurs when evil (mala) is presented without being condemned or when it is even endorsed, and this is certainly bad communication (mala male). Bona bene, occurs when good things (bona) are communicated in the right way (bene), that is, approving them and inciting others to good. Mala bene, means that one can communicate even things that are bad in themselves (mala), as long as one does so by disapproving of them, and this is good ( mala bene). Finally, there is also bona male, and this happens when the content of the communication is good in itself (bona), but is presented in a way that puts it in a bad light, ridiculing or devaluing it, and this is bad ( bona male).
Gregory offers some biblical examples of this fourfold communication.